A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London The Poem

Dylan Thomas

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,” a poem of twenty-four lines divided into four stanzas of six lines each, follows the rhyme scheme abcabc. The title indicates the poet’s rejection of conventional means of responding to death. The refusal takes on greater force as it confronts the senseless casualty of a child to war; the fire refers to the firebombing of London during World War II.

The poem is written in the first person, and more is revealed about the poet who speaks than about the child who has died. The poet declares that not until he himself dies will he declaim the child’s death. He rejects somber elegies, with their toxic spirituality; in dying, the child has united with the elements from which life springs and therefore is no longer prey to death.

The poem opens boldly with an extended adjective—“mankind/ making/ Bird, beast and flower/ Fathering and all humbling”—that modifies “darkness.” The image locates the origin of life in death. The poet thus evokes at the start the natural cycle of birth and death. The darkness signals the “last light breaking”—light indicating consciousness—as well as the stilling of the “sea tumbling in harness,” or the blood surging through the body. Death, then, extinguishes both the psychic and physical signs of an individual life.

This loss is more accurately a transformation: Single life diffuses into universal life. After...

(The entire section is 507 words.)